Professor discusses local history at Somerton meeting

Somerton Civic Association hosted Matthew Smalarz to discuss the history of Northeast Philadelphia.

Source: Manor College

The Somerton Civic Association last week held a meeting that included a guest speaker to discuss the history of Northeast Philadelphia, three zoning matters, a delay on a vote on dues and other updates from local officials.

Matthew Smalarz, professor of history at Manor College, gave an address about the unique history of the Northeast. Smalarz, raised in the Northeast, has a doctorate in history from the University of Rochester, and spent a great deal of his studies on this section of the city.

Smalarz believes there is a key word that is essential in discussing the history of the Northeast and the way it is viewed today. Space.

Smalarz discussed how the abundance of space in the Northeast in the earlier parts of the 20th century made it an appealing destination for those residing in the more crowded neighborhoods of the city.

He stated that a helpful way in breaking down the development in the Northeast as a whole would be using 1945 as a dividing line. He explained post-World War II began the real boom in the Northeast. From 1950–80, Smalarz stated that the population in the city of Philadelphia had decreased from 2.1 million to 1.6 million. Despite the overall decrease in population for the city as a whole, the Northeast actually experienced a population increase over that three-decade span from Cottman Avenue north.

Although there is now less undeveloped land in the Northeast, the discussion of space and how it should be viewed is a hot-button topic of conversation and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

In other news, the first zoning matter that sparked lively debate was the proposal for a sit-down restaurant with dine-in and take-out options. The proposal is for Culture to be located at 15002 A, 15004 and 15004 A Endicott St, across the street from the Somerton Youth Organization. The proposal was for lot consolidation and use as a restaurant. The property is currently vacant.

Culture plans to serve a combination of Italian, American and Mexican recipes. The chef who is going to be managing Culture owns two other restaurants.

The proposed hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. Trash and recycling removal will take place twice a week.

There will be no outdoor seating, according to the applicant. The civic association voted to approve the applicant by a vote of 24–19, with a proviso that the restaurant does not include outdoor seating.

The second zoning matter heard was for an application to open a group dental practitioner’s office at 11700 Bustleton Ave. Due to the current zoning overlay, medical and dental practitioners’ offices are prohibited in commercial-zoned parcels without a variance. The civic association voted unanimously 42–0 in favor of the applicant’s request to open a group dental practitioner’s office.

The third and final zoning matter heard for the night was for 10847 Rennard St. The applicant was hoping to make a multifamily residential use of the property. A variance is needed to make it a multifamily residential use and not simply a “residential two-family” use. The civic association voted unanimously against the applicant’s request to make it a “multifamily residential” use.

At the April meeting, a motion was made to hold a vote on increasing the civic’s annual dues to possibly combat the future cost of buying insurance for the association. The group voted to once again delay this vote for the following month’s meeting.

State Sen. John Sabatina was present to tell the civic about a shredding event his office in Parkwood is holding on June 2, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Next month, principal Susan Thompson of George Washington High School plans to be present to address the civic association. ••

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com